Fred looked over at Opal.
They were tied up and being saddled as the two women talked quietly and moved around them.
*Opal, you nuts?* said Fred, *You let her catch you? You gone mule-senile or something?*
Opal of course had a reputation for being very difficult to catch. It had been said that you couldn't even catch her in a 'box stall'.
Opal peered up into the trees and then shook some flies off her head, flopping her ears.
*No, I'm not nuts or senile. I happen to like Her. She visits with me every day and brushes me or just rubs her hands all over me. I hate to say it, but it is kinda nice.
She never raises her voice or gets angry. Even the times when I am being a real challenge. Nope, not a peep, she just persists.*
That was a very long speech for Opal. So she shut up and watched Val move around her adjusting the front and back cinch, checking the crupper, and breast-collar.
Val moved over to Fred and did the same, getting Fred ready for her friend to ride.
Opal didn't even throw her head around when Val bridled her. For that Val simply told Opal what a 'sweet heart' she was and gently rubbed her neck.
*Sweet heart? Give me a break!*
Opal glared at him.
Val and her friend mounted up. Friend rode Fred and Val rode Opal. They had decided to not ride in the heat of the day but ride instead at dusk and into the night which was settling over the ridge. Fred kept darting to the side and trying to grab a bite as they walked.
Fred said between mouthfuls of grass, *Boy those women sure are yacky. You suppose they are talking about important things?*
*Females, I just don't get 'em.*
Opal was also tempted by the tall grass and bent her head and grabbed as she walked. *I like their chatter, Fred,* she said around her mouthful, *I find it quite comforting. Better than when the Muleman rides us and calls us 'Dammit' all the time.
Fred nodded as his ears flopped forward and back.
*Okay, you do have a point there.*
Deep down into the valley they rode with their human riders. The air was warm and sultry ... a dense fog hovered over the creek.
Fred recognized a trail ahead and began to walk out hard and fast. His rider, Val's friend was a bit concerned and called out to Val.
"Oh no, where is he going?"
Val just laughed at the sight of her friend winding her way down an old mule/deer path that had summer weeds higher than both mule and rider. The weeds whipped back and forth.
"You'll be okay," Val said to Friend. "Just stop him on the other side of those trees."
Opal caught up to Fred and the two women laughed and joked. Opal gave Fred 'the eye'.
*That was mean, Fred, * she said.
*Mule Trick, * was all that Fred said.
The women turned around and headed through the mist and back up the valley road. At one point Val stopped Opal and pointed around and down through the trees.
"Look at the heavy air, look at the fireflies dancing! It nearly looks like a surreal medieval forest doesn't it?"
The women watched the fireflies for a few minutes in the darkness and then rode towards home.
Friend said to Val that she didn't believe she'd ever ridden in the dark like this before. Val reached down and patted Opal on the neck, telling Friend that it was fun to ride on well marked trails in the dark. Besides, it sure did beat the heat of the sun!
Opal smiled a mule smile and winked at Fred.
*She likes me,* she told Fred.
*Hurrumph,* replied Fred. *Everyone likes me but you don't see me making a big deal about it.*
*True enough,* Opal replied. *But I don't trust people in general. I dislike them. This is a new feeling for me to have. It is sort of nice.*
The two women chatted as they unsaddled the two mules and put away the tack. Their voices were musical in the night and both mules relaxed while waiting to be put back in their pastures.
*I hope Friend comes again,* Fred said quietly, *it has been a long time since I pulled some good 'mule tricks' on anyone. She was a good sport about it.*
Opal let Val lead her back into her paddock. Val rubbed Opal's neck and up between the ears. And to both Opal and Val's surprise, Opal leaned into Val when Val put her arms around Opal's neck and gave her a human hug.
"Good night Opal," Val said, letting her loose.
Opal stood and watched the human walk away. She ate her hay and watched the fireflies dance in the darkness. She thought of the human with the nice voice and the nice touch.
She would indeed look forward to another night ride.